Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ragnar Wasatch Back 2011 - Part 3

It took us more than an hour to drive directly to the major exchange at the Oakley Rodeo Grounds where we would take the baton from Van Two in the morning.  It was a cluster trying to get out of the East Canyon State Park because they were routing people down and around to wind through the campgrounds instead of letting us get directly back up onto the road.  By the time we got there, we were so exhausted and ready for sleep.  We parked in the far corner of the parking lot in front of what looked like a grassy area we could lay down and sleep on.  We hiked across the vast parking lot to stand in line for the Honey Buckets... again... and nearly froze to death.  It was one AM at this point and we had been up for nearly twenty four hours.  And I'd run fifteen miles!

When I got back to the car, shivering, I told Hubby there was no way I was going to sleep outside in our light sleeping bags we had packed.  Maybe if we had sub-zero rated bags it would be a different story.  So, we climbed back into the car and tried to sleep.  Steven, who is over six feet tall, headed out with his fleece blanket to attempt to sleep lying down on the ground instead of folded into a seat.  Sean headed to the free hot chocolate tent where we assumed he was hooking up with chicks, being the available bachelor of the group, and we didn't see him for several hours.  The rest of us tried to curl up with pillows jammed between the window and side of our necks so we could ward off the crick in the neck you get from sleeping with your head on your own shoulder.  Well, everyone except my sister who couldn't find her pillow.  Being the awesome wife I am and knowing how hard this situation was going to be on Hubby who has a ruptured disk in his lower back, I let him recline the seat in front of me so he could kind of stretch out.  Which meant I was crammed in between his seat and mine with little room to maneuver...

A while later, Sean crawled back into the car who, it turns out, had not been picking up chicks but had gone out to the grass and laid down to sleep - without even a blanket.  No wonder that didn't last long!  So now we have my sister in the driver seat, minus her pillow; Hubby in the passenger seat, reclined; me crammed behind Hubby in a seat that didn't recline, Sean in the other non-reclining seat behind my sister, and Jose and Jaclyn sharing the back seat feet-pointed-toward-each-other style.  A couple of tossing and turning hours later at about three am, the overhead light went on with Steven at the door.  I'll never forget what he said in his apologetic voice... "Sorry guys, but I can't feel my feet.  I need to get back in."  So, Jaclyn - who weighed all of about ninety pounds - climbed into the very back and laid on top of all our bags and coolers, etc.  Now Jose and Steven are in the back and we all try and go back to sleep.  Well, first I snap some photos to prove it is possible to sleep seven adults in one Ford Excursion.  The same photos that exposed Jose as the pillow thief he is since once they were posted to Facebook my sister screamed "That's my pillow!!  No wonder I couldn't find it and no wonder it stunk when I got it home!!"

About four o'clock I was so cold, even with my sleeping bag on top of me like a blanket, that I whispered to my sister to turn the car on so we could get warm.  Which she promptly obliged, probably because she hadn't been warm since we left the hotel Friday morning.  We ran the heater until it was so hot in there I thought I would vomit (which according to her was not nearly long enough) and then I realized I was hungry.  Like my stomach was growling.  Guess who hadn't eaten after her second run and who had an empty tank with nothing left to fuel another run in a couple of hours.  Yes, the same girl who still can't run on either an empty or a full stomach.  Luckily someone had passed the reusable grocery back toward the front and I had the makings of PB&J within reach.  I made me a sandwich and ate some grapes from the fruit cooler between the seats with the aid of my headlamp - which I never actually used for running but was required to have - without disturbing the rest of my van-mates.

After I was done eating I realized it was coming up on about four thirty and if the other van had either made up time or was on schedule still, we were going to need to be ready to run in just over an hour.  I sent Melissa a text to check in and found they had fallen even further behind.  They estimated they wouldn't be done and ready to pass off to us until about eight o'clock.  Elated, I switched my alarm clock on my phone to much later and fell back to sleep, kind of.

The alarm clock went off at six forty five and everyone groaned since if I was up and needing to change my clothes, everyone had to be up so we could unload the car to get my bag out.  They were offering breakfast of pancakes, eggs and sausage that we took advantage of.  I changed out of the clothes I had spent the last thirty hours in and wiped down with some baby wipes - since there were no showers available.  You never think that a wipe down with baby wipes is going to cut it until you're in a situation where it does and then you're grateful to have them.  The downside of the morning was when my sister was in line for the Honey Buckets and the pump truck arrived to pump them out, and she was downwind.  It was disgusting enough that she had almost made her way to the front of the line and still stepped out of it to escape the stink.  I will say that overall the Honey Buckets themselves were never disgusting and the race team did a fabulous job coordinating the servicing to accommodate fourteen thousand runners using them constantly.

By the time we had all cleaned ourselves up, the sun was shining, mocking us with the inviting field of grass we could have slept on had we had the appropriate gear.  We headed for the exchange to wait for Van Two.  We had about half an hour of hanging out with the girls from the other van hearing about their overnight runs and van antics and the fact that they had not had any sleep yet while we waited for Melissa to arrive.  I was so nervous and didn't think I had anymore running in me.  I had rolled out with TheStick (which every runner must have we all decided that weekend) but I hadn't stretched much after my last run because it was too cold outside to do it before we hit the sack.  I worried that I'd beaten my body to it's limit and it would rebel.  I feared I'd take the baton and have to walk the whole length of my last four mile run.

I didn't need to be nervous, though.  Melissa arrived, told me she had fallen on her face, and sent me on my way with the baton.  I had psyched myself up, swore I would not humiliate myself by walking out of the exchange no matter what and surprisingly ran the first mile and a half straight.  Then I hit some rolling hills and did more walk/run intervals telling my concerned van-mates that I was fine and was just going to take it easy.  I had plenty of water and I would see them at the exchange since it was a short little run of four point one miles.

When I hit two miles according to my GPS I celebrated that I was halfway there and kept telling myself that even though I could see the course ahead of me and knew it was uphill the remainder of the way that I could do it.  After all, I only had to go one more mile and then I'd see that beautiful and much loved marker that proclaimed "one mile to go".  I was on the home stretch!

I looked down at my GPS and saw that I had gone three point nine miles, which meant I had a mere three tenths of a mile to go, and looked up to see... the "one mile to go" marker which was not welcome HERE and had become a taunt rather than a beloved sight.  What the fuck are you talking about one mile to go?  I KNOW this leg was only four point one miles!  It must be a joke, right?!  Only it wasn't... turns out the leg was actually four point nine, in other words a five mile leg, not the four I was expecting.  That last mile began to drag out and my body - which I had been making deals with all morning to please just get me to that last exchange - started to scream in agony.  My right foot started shooting weird pain from my arch down to my toes which I started worrying was some kind of injury; I could no longer muster the energy for even a short run interval between the walking and I was putting us seriously behind in our times.

I rounded the last corner and could see the exchange ahead of me.  With the last ounce of will I had left I started running and as I got within fifty yards I screamed - at the top of my lungs with both arms held high, "I'M FUCKING DONE!"  Did I care that my language probably offended half the people standing around?  Not in the least...  And I even had someone yell it back at me as I passed saying she thought she was the only one who felt that way.  With jubilant screams and relief proceeding me, I saw my Hubby step up to take the baton from me for the last time.  The running part of my Ragnar was over!

I stretched my poor calves and feet a bit and heard that the talk in the van had been along the lines of "why doesn't she let someone else take the last leg if she's hurting that much?"  Which my wise sister proclaimed, accurately, I would never do because I was stubborn and had said I'd do it and by god would.  We loaded into the van to catch up with Hubby who only had three miles to go.  He ended up tweaking his knee not even a mile in and couldn't run anymore.  He had to walk most of his third leg and hated every minute of it and most especially those minutes that included someone passing him.  I hated seeing his disappointment of not finishing strong but reminded him that he barely trained for this event and should be proud that he did as well as he did on the first two legs and even had the ability to walk the last one.

Everyone else had short and easy legs except Steven who had been dreading his hardest and longest third run.  It was over eight miles up another mountain highway pass behind Jordanelle.  It was also a leg of no van support so we waved him goodbye from the exchange and toiled a bit to let Hubby and I stretch and relax a little before we made our way to the next exchange.  Steven kicked ass doing what he calls construction intervals - run to a cone, walk to a cone.  Then we watched Jacklyn sprint down into Heber Valley like a shot running about six and a half minute miles.  Not bad for a mountain biker who doesn't run outside very often!  She made up time for both Hubby and I and then Sean and Jose had quick and easy runs and we arrived in Heber to trade off one last time to Van Two at about one o'clock.

After the last exchange, we stretched out on the grass and again pulled out the cooler and food.  We were so ravenous!  Jose's family - who weren't going to see him for two weeks between business travel and Ragnar weekend - came and met us and Jose and Sean went home with them after we snapped some "OMG We did it" photos.  (Deserters!)

We packed the car one last time, two people short, and headed for Park City High School and the finish line.  We parked, used the Honey Buckets... again, walked forever to get to the stadium and then hung out for hours waiting for the team finish.  We browsed through the very picked over merchandise tent, wandered past all the other vendor tents, scoped out the food and copped a squat at a table.  Steven's family and Jaclyn's husband arrived and we got to tell our first recap of the weekend and relive the adventure we were still on.  After some more food, we ended up in the end zone of the football field so we could have an easy reference point to tell Van Two where to meet us when they arrived.  Since Steven's wife is a close friend, I chatted while my sister and Hubby fell asleep on the astro-turf.

Then Van Two arrived and at last we were all together.  Mina, the nurse practitioner and all around kick ass woman, took one look at Hubby's knee and promptly escorted him to the first aid tent for an exam and an ice pack.  Turns out he had overused and irritated his knee and needed Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation but had not torn his ACL again which is always his first fear.  We made our way to the team holding area and began the stretch of waiting for them to announce our number over the PA so we could go onto the track and run with Melissa the last tenth of a mile to the finish line together.  It was fun catching each other up on what each van had been up to.  Mina disappeared and turns out had gone down the trail to meet Melissa and run in with her since this had been a no van support leg the whole way for her.

Finally they announced team 1048, Run Piggies Run and Melissa and Mina ran up onto the track and we all sprinted for the finish together... until I screamed "slow down" so we wouldn't leave my poor Hubby behind.  We crossed at just past eight thirty PM.  There were tons of smiles and lots of pictures snapped as we crossed as a team - well, minus the deserters who went home early.  We were quickly herded to the adjoining tents to receive our medals and other finish line goodies and then to pose for official team finish photos in our medals.  Two free pizzas from Little Caesars were snarfed down and poor Melissa tried to process it all while overwhelmed that she had just finished her long and very difficult run while we all rested and waited in anticipation.

Our official time was one hundred ninety two miles in thirty eight hours, five minutes and nine seconds.  The winners did it in about eighteen hours, but we were not the last team to finish which is all that mattered.  The only thing that mattered was that we DID finish!

We all walked together to the cars to hand out the official shirts that I'd been carrying around in Van One all weekend.  Steven, Jaclyn and Mina went home with their families who came to watch the team finish.  And the rest of us all climbed back into the stinky vans to make our way home after group hugs galore and talk about doing it all again.

I don't know if, after all of this, I have successfully expressed how amazing this weekend was.  It was the most grueling and rewarding thing I have ever done.  At times I hated it, at times I wanted to smack van-mates when my sleep deprived bitchy side was showing.  But at the same time I loved every minute of the experience and I can't wait to do it again!  Ragnar Vegas?  Ragnar Napa?  Anyone?  The funniest thing is that registration for 2012 Wasatch Back is already open exclusively for those who did it this year.  So I'm already back to planning and logistics mode for next year.  If you're interested in being on the 2012 team, let me know!

My most relished moment overall was applying the badge of honor to the rear window of my car: the coveted Ragnar sticker.  As Steven said, it makes it that much more impressive knowing that you don't get it when you check in, you can't buy it anywhere, you only get it when you finish.  In other words, it is earned!  Yes, the medal is nice and includes a bottle opener but it doesn't have anything on the sticker!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ragnar Wasatch Back 2011 - Part 2

We arrived at Snow Basin, the second major exchange where we would eventually meet up with the runner from Van Two and get the baton back to kick off our second set of runs, at about two o'clock.  We didn't have much down time since the first set of legs for Van Two were all fairly short and they only had about five hours of running.  Plus we'd hung out in Eden for a while already.  We hiked from the lower parking lot to the lodge, stood in line for the Honey Buckets with the masses, and hiked back to the car.  We had planned ahead to have real food with us and pulled the cooler out for pasta salad and grilled chicken.  It was nice to lay down on the ground and stretch our legs.  We even ended up being sucked into the merchandise tent to get our Ragnar gear - hoodies, shirts and beanies.

At this point in the day it wasn't much different than a day of training; I'd already done several days run in the morning and run at night.  And this was the leg I was super excited for - my downhill leg.  We checked in with the other team to see if they were on track for their run schedule, which they were, and relaxed for a bit.  Steven was the smartest of us who wandered off with his blanket to find a shaded spot to try and get some sleep.  The rest of us laughed and gossiped and talked about our next set of legs.

At about quarter till five o'clock we packed our gear up and got ready to head for the exchange point.  This meant it was time for me to get nervous with anticipation again and start checking and double checking all my gear.  I failed to mention that on my first leg my iPod decided to quit about a mile in.  It doesn't like cold temperatures as much as I do apparently.  I'd charged it in the car and strapped it onto my arm hoping it wouldn't fail me this time since I had a two hour run ahead of me.  Garmin on my wrist, check.  Heart rate monitor and Nike+ Sportband on the other, check.  I filled up my water bottle to strap to my back, loaded up with my Gu for pre-run and mid-run fueling and prepped my recovery shake with water in my blender ball.  I sprayed down with sunscreen and was ready.

Or so I thought...

I stood at the exchange for a long time waiting for Melissa - the last runner from Van Two.  I couldn't blame her, she was running up the steep canyon road and she had told us she'd have to walk parts of it.  I couldn't have done it and there's no shame in walking.  The exchange was crazy and the volunteers were clearly not very adjusted to what they were doing - I suspected it was shift change.  The runners were all lined up and craning necks to try and watch who was rounding the corner to see if it was their team mate or not.  The more we craned our necks, the more the volunteers told us to step back.  All the other exchanges had people who were radioing ahead from a half mile out when each runner would pass and they would announce the team number for those waiting.  Well, not this exchange.  Finally I saw her turn the corner running like a trooper.  Apparently my Hubby, always the jokester, yelled "way to go, Melissa!  Just one more mile!"  Melissa didn't miss a beat and promptly flipped him the bird and the crowd roared with laughter.  The fact that I missed this exchange completely, even standing right there, tells you how distracted I was and focused on my run.  Hubby was laughing about it later and I had no idea what he was talking about.

And then I had taken the baton, slapped it around my wrist and headed off... On a journey into Hell.

The description of my leg was something like 'depart exchange 12 via utility road behind the lodge, turn right onto Snow Basin Road... blah blah blah... DOWN the canyon into Ogden Valley'.  The reality of that utility road was nothing that I had planned for.  It didn't just go quaintly behind the lodge that was right there, it went half a mile up the ski hill behind the lodge and was rocky as hell.  I couldn't run it without twisting my ankle so it was more like a hike - a slow hike up a fifteen percent incline.  I was super dejected when I realized it was a ski lift I was running next to and the road just kept going up.  Finally, after what seemed like miles, the road turned back down the hill and my heart and lungs got a little breather - not to mention my legs.  The worst part was the bugs - that kept hitting me in the face and sticking to the sweat there.  And, of course, there was no van support on this section so I couldn't even tell anyone I needed the bug spray, which was buried in my bag in the back of the van anyway.  I was miserable and had eight miles left to go.

And then I hit the snow...

Yes, SNOW!  I had to climb three steps up onto the top of a large section of snow and run across the top of it.  Trust me, I looked and there was no way around that snowbank that completely covered a section of the utility road.  It was slushy snow - a pile which had been there for a while, cold, then melted, then cold again. I slipped and sloshed around in the ankle-deep slush on top literally cursing with each step thinking about how miserable this run would be if I had wet shoes or wet socks or both.

Once past the snow, I hit the road and was finally back to van-support.  I had a section of uphill which I figured was my last and settled in for walk/run intervals to get to the top.  Running is such a mental sport and I kept telling myself that I could do it and focused on the downhill reward after this little uphill section since then I would be heading back down to hook up to the main canyon highway from the little detour into the ski resort exchange point.  Not long after I hit the road I saw the blessed - and now recognizable thanks to our decorating efforts - back of my van.  I yelled at the top of my lungs "bug spray!" and hoped my sister who was hanging out the open driver's window could understand what I was screaming.  She did and luckily had some which was more handy than mine and didn't require an unpacking of the van to get to.  I stopped to get sprayed down, glad for the little rest after the uphill, and headed out again - still excited.

And man was that downhill ever fun!  Seven percent downgrade - hell yes!  Except it didn't last as long as I thought and about two more miles down when I hit the main highway I was back to uphill... and it was a long and steady slight uphill grade which is my least favorite.  I'd rather have a super tough but short uphill that I can psych myself up about and push through.  This was torture.  And on top of that, we were now in an area of main highway and the support people in my van couldn't get out and cross the road to me if I needed anything.  I'd already drank most of my water I was carrying, was feeling the late day heat and knew I'd need more.  Since it was a long non-van support leg, there were water stations and at the first one they let me refill my water bottle and I grabbed some Powerade.  About that time my calf started cramping up because I hadn't stretched as much as I should have between runs.  I yelled to the van across the highway that I needed a banana and Steven chucked one across the road.  I'm a total girl so I didn't catch it and it landed at my feet, broken open and smashed on one end.  I ate most of it and tossed the biodegradable remains over the side of the cliff and pushed on hoping my dancing nanny who had told me the trick of eating a banana to get rid of cramps was right.  Guess what, she was!

The rest of the leg translated much differently in reality than what I had envisioned based on the graphic on the leg map.  It was more rolling hills with a general trend downward.  So not what I had been looking forward to in the form of constant downhill! Guess I should have trained for uphill just a bit more than I had...

At the halfway point I was a wreck.  I had pushed my body to lengths it had never been pushed before and I was approaching - and would exceed - the most mileage I had ever run in a twelve hour period.  Not even my half marathon mileage was this long.  My feet were hurting, my plantar fasciitis that I'd been babying for a week of rest prior to race day was flaring and shooting pain up my heel with every step.  But I kept going because there was no way this race that I'd been dreaming about for years and training for months for was going to beat me.  And then I could see the end and the last stretch of downhill waiting and knew I just needed to make it the last three miles and I could rest.  I had hit a point that I needed to be by myself to struggle on my own and didn't want my van-mates to see it so I waved them on to the next exchange so Hubby could get ready for his run.  I took some more Powerade from the last water station and settled in for the longest stretch of road I have ever run...

As I crested the last section of slight uphill with about two miles left to go, I looked up and saw the most beautiful view of the Ogden valley opening up below me.  The sun - which was almost setting to my right - bounced off the green hills surrounding me with surreal light.  And then our song from our wedding started playing on the iPod in my ears which thankfully hadn't quit on me this time.  I started crying, it hit me so hard.  And I'm not going to lie, I cried those last two miles almost nonstop while people continued to pass me and yell "good job" counting me as the roadkill I felt like.  This was also the point I had officially sweat off all the bug spray because the bugs returned and started sticking to the sweat on my face again.  Bugs are so gross!

As I came into view of the exchange I tried to pull myself together, still trudging along and telling myself I felt this way because I had just run fifteen miles in the space of twelve hours - FIFTEEN - and that I was amazing for living through it and still be running.  I was able to stop the tears and focus on getting to the exchange point, looking frantically for my Honey who had changed his shirt while I was running.  When he stepped up from the line of runners waiting at the exchange and I finally saw him I lost it again, slapped the baton on him and wished him luck.  As he ran off looking strong I promptly broke down like a baby while my team stepped up to congratulate me.  Luckily my friend Steven offered his shoulder to cry on for a moment while I composed myself.  I'm sure it was awkward for him but I appreciated it so much.  Then I saw my sister, though, and I lost it again.  Thank god she was there for me to hug, cry with and to snap me back to reality.  She told me how amazing it was that I had just done something that no one else she knows could have done, reminded me I HAD done it and it was over, and that I needed to pull myself together.  Just the right combination of bitchy and supportive I needed.  I stretched a tiny bit and jumped into the van because Hubby's leg was only three miles and we couldn't let him beat us to the exchange while I had an emotional fit.  I put my big girl panties back on, mixed up my recovery shake and drank it while basking in what I had just accomplished.  The irony that the leg I had most looked forward to during training was the one I hated the most was not lost on me.  And, we were now forty minutes behind our estimated pace times between me and Melissa having to walk parts of the canyon.

We leap-frogged through the rest of the runners who all now had to wear their reflective gear because we'd entered the official night time running hours:  reflective vest, head lamp and butt light all required. Everyone between me and Jose had their easy legs with short and flat mileage paralleling the highway running through the valley I'd just gotten us into and I envied every single one of them.

By the time Jose headed out on his final run it was full dark and this was his hardest and longest leg heading up to East Canyon State Park.  A combination of no one paying attention to what time he actually left the exchange, several of us needing to stand in line for the Honey Buckets... again... and him running either faster or slower than his published pace, we lost him.  It was surreal how every single runner from the back looked exactly the same with the exception of being able to tell which version of reflective vest they had - the vest kind or the Y-suspender kind.  We went ahead of where we thought he should be and stopped to wait.  Then panicked after sitting there long enough that we swore he should have passed by already and worrying that he'd already passed that spot while we dallied at the exchange.  So we moved a couple of miles ahead passing what we estimated was the entire section of the runners who had just run past us at the last place and then some hoping to catch up to him.  We did this three more times without ever being able to pick him out and decided we better head to the exchange assuming at this point he would beat us there.

Except when we got there, he wasn't there and I got worried.  Yes, he was carrying his own water and he was a strong runner who said he didn't need anything from us when he headed out but we'd agreed we'd meet him at the halfway mark of his eight mile run to check on him.  And instead we'd lost him among the other runners and ultimately abandoned him.  We settled in at the exchange with Nancy, the first runner from Van Two, and waited in the freezing night air.  And by freezing I mean freezing, literally.  Sub forty degree temps are fabulous to run in, not so fun to stand around in with only a hoodie...

Finally we heard them announce our team number and saw Jose come down the last stretch and into the illumination of the lights.  Relief!  We wished Nancy and Van Two luck as they were off to run all through the rest of the night and we headed to the car to get warm, apologizing to Jose for losing him as we went.

We headed out from the exchange all very excited for some much anticipated rest we had ahead of us.  As we read the directions from the race magazine about where we could go and hang out to have indoor sleeping accommodations and showers (for a price, of course) and then realized it would mean a thirty mile backtrack in the morning to get to the exchange which they recommended we get to early, we all decided it would be best to maximize the time we had to sleep and go straight to the real exchange instead of the alternate hang out location.  So, we bee-lined it straight to Oakley to sleep and run again the next morning.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ragnar Wasatch Back 2011 - Part 1

What an amazing weekend... What an endurance test... What an accomplishment...

WE DID IT!!  Our entire team finished the 191 grueling miles together and had the experience of a lifetime.  I'm still all jumbled up in my thoughts and trying to wrap my mind around how to relay everything that transpired effectively.  How do you explain to people how spending thirty eight hours in a car together, with five other stinky runners, driving slowly across half the state can be fun?  But oh my god was it ever fun!!

I made a list of things to do differently next time (yes, there's definitely going to be a next time!)
1) take a backpack, not your purse, Terra *sheesh*
2) pack even lighter - I didn't use half the stuff I brought because my bag was buried in the back the whole time.  Which will also be solved with a backpack to put my essentials in and have handy.
3) we need a unique lighting option to differentiate OUR runners at night, even in Van 1
4) we don't need as much food next time
5) don't do three graveyard on-call shifts the week leading up to Ragnar

The week leading up to the race I was a total stress ball but when it came to actual race day I was relaxed and ready to experience Ragnar.  Thursday was filled with last minute preparations - like getting the house restocked with groceries so my poor kids who were staying home with the nanny for the weekend could eat.  Everyone in my van, "Van One", met at my house that evening to drive the two hours to Logan where the race started.  We met the one person none of us knew at the hotel when we checked in and headed for the restaurant for dinner.  We picked an Italian place so we could all "carb-load".  Kind of a joke among runners to eat a big meal the night before when in reality, if you were really carb-loading the correct way, it happens over a couple of weeks and is way intense.  By the time we got done with dinner and back to the hotel to hit the sack it was after eleven o'clock PM.  With our start time of six-thirty the next morning we decided we needed to rendezvous around the coffee pot in the lobby by four-forty five.  Considering I was the first runner, I can't run on an empty stomach AND I can't run on a full stomach I had to be up at about  three-forty five to eat my meal replacement, get dressed and repacked and ready to head out.  Yikes, that is NOT a lot of sleep and it was going to bite me in the ass later considering I'd worked the graveyard on-call shift the two nights in a row previous and had gotten very little sleep.

The weather gods were smiling down on me personally when the morning brought almost freezing temperatures.  It's no secret that I hate the heat and my favorite temperature to run in is forty.  Being the first runner out of the gate and it being under forty when we headed out from the hotel brought me such joy.  We made our way - after my sister and I reloaded the car while everyone else sipped coffee - to the start where we had to stand in line to check in to get our race bibs...  Then another line to get our safety flags...  Then another line to get our safety briefing done... No wonder they tell you to arrive an hour and a half before your scheduled start time!  Luckily there was a huge merchandise tent that was warm.  I'm sure it was on purpose since it was a superb marketing ploy.

Then they were calling the runners for the 6:30 start time to line up.  The start was on the Utah State University campus track and then out the stadium from there to wind our way through quaint farming communities and over three mountain passes toward our finish line.  About fifty teams start together so the track was full but not overflowing.  Teams start all day in order to keep the course manageable with the fourteen THOUSAND runners who participated.  I was so nervous and so excited standing there among all the other runners doing the "runner one" spot.  When they said "GO" we all took off and for once I didn't sprint off the start but stuck to my pace.  Which also meant by the time we came to the first corner to put us out onto the roads of Logan I was well in last place.  The motto is: "further, not faster" and I kept telling myself that it didn't matter how fast I went just as long as I could go the distance.  Especially since I had the longest total mileage of anyone on the team.  The morning was so beautiful and I had such an amazing run those first seven miles.  My van-mates, led my my sister the best driver on the planet, stopped every couple of miles to make sure I didn't need anything and to give me more cow bells.  (If you haven't seen the SNL skit about more cow bells you must google it and watch it!)

One of the funnest parts of running Ragnar is watching all the crazy vans drive by and seeing how they have been decorated with team names and themes.  I realized that we were in serious need of van decorating since ours had none at that point.  We didn't want to get up earlier or stay up later to do it and figured we'd have plenty of time during the race.  Not only are the van decorations and sayings painted on the windows entertaining to see, it makes your van more distinguishable among the hundreds that pass by on each leg.  So, note to self: must get at least our team name on the windows after I'm done running.  Luckily we'd tracked down some car markers the night before.

Only one thing marred that first run and it was a personal annoyance that plagued me the entire race... being road kill.  Some hard core Ragnar runners have started the tradition of counting their kills through the race.  In Ragnar-speak a roadkill is when you pass up another runner.  I'm sure if you're the one doing the passing and there are very few people to count it is fun and exhilarating.  When you are the slowest runner on that leg and EVERYONE passes you and says "good job" as they run by it feels more demeaning than encouraging.  I was thankful to those who passed by me in silence and stayed out of my head remembering that I was only responsible for running my pace on my legs, not anyone else's, and we'd still finish on time.  We were in it to Finish, not in it to win it after all.  I ran the seven miles in exactly the time I estimated it would take me for my average 10K pace and felt amazing.  That was the leg I had been most worried about since it included a lot of rolling hills.  I like it flat and downhill, I'm not gonna lie!

At the end of my run I handed off to my sexy husband who was waiting at the exchange and he headed out on his first leg of six miles.  He killed everyone who had just killed me AND got his picture taken by a photographer for one of the local papers which was featured on their website the next day.  He ran so fast that by the time I'd cooled down and we loaded into the van to leap-frog ahead of him and be ready with water, he'd passed the point he told us he'd want us at.  So, we just kept driving until we found him and pulled over to give him some water.  Not too shabby for a guy who had his ACL replaced two and a half years ago and did very little training for the actual running part of Ragnar.

We repeated the cool-down-the-incoming-runner-and-leapfrog-ahead-to-support-the-current-runner dance through the other four runners in the van.  It was so interesting to watch how each person's demeanor would change as they became the runner on deck and would start their own mental preparations.  Some would get quiet, some would get giddy and some just didn't sweat it but strapped on their bib number and was ready to go.  Steven called himself the grumpy runner because he doesn't actually love the running part of running.  He retreated into his headphones in search of his zen place and ran very focused, not needing much support from us in the van at all.  Jaclyn we soon found was our secret weapon and could run so fast.  She was almost all done with her first run before we even caught up with her.  Sean had a tough climb up Avon pass but enjoyed it so much he was posing for pictures as we passed him by.  Jose screamed downhill on the other side of the pass and also posed for pictures - road killing along the way.

We arrived at the first major exchange in Eden about one o'clock PM to find massive amounts of team vans.  A major exchange is where both vans from your team - and every other team - are there together because one van is handing off to the other van.  You can imagine the chaos!  We were parked in some poor farmer's field who I am personally grateful is someone who supports Ragnar and let us be there.  We split up with half of us heading for the lines to use the Honey Buckets (aka, road construction porta-potty) and the rest searching for Van Two before they headed out to support Nancy as she took the exchange from Jose.  By some miracle we were parked in the same general area as them and saw them as they were heading out.  We passed on the other half of the cowbells, gushed about how much fun we were having and wished them as much luck on their legs.

With the baton now with Van Two, we had about five hours of down time before we had to be at the next major exchange and ready for our next set of runs.  We hung out there for a bit to see what booths they had and what free food there was, which was not much since they had chips and salsa but had run out of salsa.  The free samples of frozen yogurt were a hit and the jewelry that enticed me turned out to be kind of cheesy and overpriced.  So, we all stood in line for the Honey Buckets - something that became one of the main activities of the weekend as Steven pointed out - and then headed back to the car.  We took the time then to put our team name "Run, Piggies, Run" on the back window of the Excursion and put each runner's name on the side windows with three check-boxes to mark our progress along the way.  Van decorating complete, we headed for Snow Basin to wait for Van Two to get done and pass the baton back to us.

*** I've decided to publish the race recap in three parts or else it will be ages before anyone hears how it all went!  Stay tuned for the next installment that will cover the second leg of our journey! ***

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ragnar Recap - Pre Race

What the hell is Ragnar?  I realized that just because people have been hearing me talk (and blog and tweet and Facebook) about Ragnar for a year that doesn't mean people know what it is or what I am about to embark on.  In a nutshell, it is a relay race from Logan to Park City, UT: one hundred ninety one miles, run by twelve runners over a forty eight hour period.  The twelve runners are split into two vans and each runner runs three different times.  Each leg of the relay is assigned so if I'm runner one (which I just so happen to be), I run legs one, thirteen and twenty five.  The motto of the race is: Run, Drive, Sleep, Repeat.  The original race of the Ragnar Relay Series is the Wasatch Back here in Utah but they have them all over the country now.  So you know it has to be fun, right?

It's amazing to me that Ragnar is actually here.  I started talking about doing a Ragnar Relay years ago.  The first year, I wasn't ready as a runner to even run the distance of one of the legs but it sounded so fun I said "next year" and vowed to train hard.  Then I got pregnant and missed the next year.  The following year I didn't think I'd have enough time to recover from childbirth and train for Ragnar in five months so I said "next year" yet again.

"Next year" arrived last summer - the summer of 2010.  My adorable running fool of a cousin starts talking about Ragnar at the yearly family reunion every summer because she has just finished a few months before. Last year was only different in one way: I was finally capable (and ready and willing) to join in the fun.  So we decided to get a team together.  Between the two of us we were sure we could find ten other runners if each of us focused on filling a van with our fellow running buddies.  Since both of our husbands are also runners, that left only four people for each of us to find and get committed.  Registration is in August so we had a couple of months.

Early August arrived and I had my runners but she had complications - namely of the conflict variety.  See, she's done this several years and is a very strong runner having done a full marathon last year.  There was a team at her work and they really wanted her - and they had a lot of money and sponsors which we wouldn't have which I admit would have been super enticing for me.  She also did not want to be a team captain - adamantly did not want to be the captain.  I assured her I didn't feel bad that she wanted to join the team at work with all her friends (and sponsors!) and said I'd just get my own team together.

I should have listened to her vehement objection to being the captain but what did I know then?

So, I talked to everyone I know and all of their friends and put together a team of twelve committed runners who had paid me their portion of the team registration and even got in before the early registration (aka discount period) was over.  Two days before regular registration even began, our team "Run Piggies Run" had a team number and a spot in the Wasatch Back 2011.  They allow 1050 teams and we were team number 1048.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The race sold out two days before early registration was over.  It got me all excited that we got in and I started planning and thinking about logistics.

And then the one person who hadn't paid me but assured me they would backed out and I was already trying to find someone else to take their place.  Luckily, one of my running friend's team from the previous year didn't get registered in time so she was available and filled the spot quickly.  That was the beginning of a string of substitutions that resulted in five of the twelve original team members replaced since then.  We had one drop out due to injury, one got a super exciting internship for the summer in D.C., one had a conflict with scouting and one had a sister who got married and had the nerve to schedule her wedding on Ragnar weekend.  Oh, and my friend who ran last year who's team didn't get in?  They registered wait list and got in a few weeks ago.  Luckily I have three neighbors I successfully talked into joining the insanity and my good friend Diyeana talked her sister in law and new boss into last minute substitutions.  The craziest part for me is that I have still not even met two of my teammates - one of which will be in my van for a thirty six hour stinkfest.

Since August I have exercised my project management skills so much that I should have been getting paid to do it.  Twelve adults who live all over the place with crazy schedules were assembled for planning meetings twice and every logistical possibility planned for.  Countless emails were exchanged keeping us all on the same page and preparing all of us for our very first Ragnar (with the exception of one who did Ragnar Vegas last October and who I couldn't have done it without.)  All this while I was doing all the other insane things I always do AND running twenty miles a week on average for the past twenty weeks.  And all of the planning and training culminates tomorrow as we embark on our Ragnar journey.

On top of all our team logistics we've had record late snowfall in Utah and it was only today, two days before race day, that we got the official word that the roads on the two passes through the mountains had been cleared of snow and would be drivable.  As much stress as I've had coordinating my little team of twelve could you imagine having to work out logistics for the entire race?  Think about it - one thousand fifty teams of twelve runners and you're talking over twelve thousand runners.  Hubby and I drove parts of the course over Memorial Day and if nothing else I'm looking forward to running through some beautiful country.  Thank god we didn't have to add more mileage to anyone's runs to go around the mountain passes that were still closed due to snow!

We leave tomorrow evening to drive the two hours to where the race starts to hopefully get some sleep at a hotel so we can be at the starting line by 5:00AM on Friday morning. I'm the first runner out of the gate at 6:30 AM with a 6.9 mile run.  Approximately twelve hours later, I have my second run of 8.3 miles down one of the canyon passes.  My third run is my "easy" one at just over 4 miles of mostly flat terrain.  My total mileage is twenty miles in thirty six hours.  Still sounds daunting even to me when I add the miles together but I've been training hard and I know I can do them split up into the three different runs with no sweat.

Did you hear me just now sounding all positive and shit?  I hope you bought it because really I'm scared shitless that I'll have to walk that last four miles or that I'll get so stiff riding around in the van that I won't be able to run either of the subsequent runs.  But, I'm not letting myself stress about it because regardless of how it happens I am excited to experience it and have a blast.  I even talked my sister into being our support driver and I'm really looking forward to spending the time with her - although I don't think she's quite as excited to endure what can only be termed a sweaty stink-fest.  When one of the top things on any list of what to bring is a towel to sit on "so the stink doesn't go into the seats" followed closely with the tip to pack your clothes in large Ziploc bags so you can "zip up the stink" you have to expect the worst, right?

I'm heading off to bed now... wish me luck and watch my tweets for updates along the way.  Of course I'll recap post-race as well - if I live through it, that is!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Screw that, I've got feathers in my hair!

Okay, I'm officially done with my little meltdown.  Seriously, last week had me on the edge more times than I've been in... well, I don't ever remember being that close that often before.  I'm always a little psychotic around a new moon but this one was a doozie and will go down in the history books, I'm afraid.  I'll look back years from now and say "wow, remember the new moon of May 2011?  What a killer!"  I have now effectively slapped myself back to kickin' ass and takin' names mode and am ready to tackle the mountain of laundry I've let pile up and get back to writing, which I've been slacking on.

Speaking of writing...My writer's group IS AMAZING and helped immensely getting me out of the slump.  We met last week which was fabulous as always.  I got to play with character development through dialogue which I didn't realize I could do until I tried.  And, we ended the evening with a brainstorm session on my novel.  I came away with lots of the fuzzy ideas I've had swarming around in my head a bit more solidified AND on paper.  But, it also resulted in many a daunting realization for me.  Like am I really changing the name of my female main character?  (If you have any powerful sounding female names, please share them since she can no longer have the same name as Baby Sister!)  And am I really thinking of putting a religious aspect into my book?  (Yes, ME, the non-religious girl with religion in her book!)  And is my male main character going to fundamentally have to change everything he's been doing in the beginning of the story?  I know all three of these things mean a much more challenging story to write but I'm excited about the possibilities and the depth they will bring to my little baby.  I can't wait to be able to carve out consistent time again to write.  Which I will do once the insanity that is Ragnar is over in just over a week.  I've come to accept that there is no way to do both Ragnar training AND writing at the same time and I just have to be okay with not doing everything all the time when I bite off this much to chew on.

Sigh.  Sometimes being an overachiever really bites.

With that said, my running lately has been a joke and I'm worried that I should be more stressed about it.  I haven't run more than four or five miles in weeks because of time constraints with the hubby's new schedule cutting into my gym time.  And, since I'm being honest, I haven't even been that motivated to push myself to the level of training I know I need to be at in order to be successful on this race.  Like Sunday night I totally could have done a second run in the evening but I just didn't want to get off the couch.  And I didn't.  If I'm rationalizing, which I've been doing a lot of the last couple of weeks, it's because I've been suffering with a flare up of my old nemesis running injury, plantar fasciitis, and I don't want to push myself hard and then not be able to even run on race weekend.  Then there's the run I tried in the eighty two degree heat of a June Sunday in Utah that sapped my energy so much that I couldn't even run more than thirty minutes before I thought I'd die - LITERALLY.  Have I mentioned how much I loathe heat?  I long for the cool temperatures of fall already and it isn't even full-blown summer yet.  I'm probably the only person I know who trains outdoors all winter and opts for the treadmill in the summer.  But I digress...

Today I got some good news coupled with a dose of reality.  I stumbled across an article talking about the need for rest and how some runners have a tendency to overlook it.  Turns out that being stressed and tired and all the things I've been suffering the last few weeks takes a toll on a runner's performance and the only cure is to take some time to rest so your body has time to recover.  So, the new plan is to not stress about how much training I'm going to get, or not get, in the next week.  Seriously, I've been training hard core for 18 weeks and it's time to start tapering off so I am rested and ready for race day.  I'll go for a few light runs between now and then but not push myself.  I know that I am indeed capable of running morning and night and the next morning - because I've done it already - and that I can run the distances I have on tap for each of my legs of the relay - seven miles, eight miles and four miles respectively.  It feels good being back in the mind frame of "I'm ready" instead of the stressed out "OMG I'M NOT GOING TO BE READY" I've been feeling.  On the way home from work today I saw a bumper sticker that said "FURTHER... NOT FASTER" and I laughed right out loud because it was clearly on the back of that Jeep just for me to see and be reminded that for me it isn't about speed but endurance.  I need to turn off the pace calculator on the old Garmin and things might be a bit less stressful for myself.  When did I become so obsessed with being competitive anyway?

I also had an epiphany the other day when the date of my first race of the running season came and went and I didn't even register or pretend to care that I was missing it. Once Ragnar is over, I'm going to go back to running for the joy of running and not care about a race until the half marathon in October.  By then it will be cooler temperatures and I can train hard for a few months and be happy.  After the insanity of Ragnar training it will be nice to take a break, enjoy running again, and have time to write.

To go along with my new outlook, I indulged a whim and got feather extensions in my hair at the gym last weekend with Big Sister.  It's fabulous and sassy and represents everything I'm feeling now where nothing is going to get me!  So, the only question is, did the feathers come because of the new outlook or did my outlook change because I got feathers in my hair?  At this point, I'm so glad to be out from under the dark cloud of ick that I don't care how it happened, I'm just glad it did!  Here's to the downhill fun of this roller coaster I call life!